Monday, July 22, 2013

Legacy Character Study: Blue Beetle, Part 1

Wow. Here I am, at the several posts mark. This is such an amazing milestone that it just has to be celebrated somehow. So let’s celebrate with our first Legacy Character Study. Yep, this time we're looking at not one, not two, but three different characters to all use the same identity.

Left to Right: Dan Garrett, Ted Kord, Jaime Reyes
Also Left to Right: Awesome, Awesome, Awesome.
Character Conception
Blue Beetle first appeared in Mystery Men Comics number one back in August of '39, possibly created by Will Eisner, (the guy who created the very-similar hero “The Spirit,” but that may be completely wrong. If it is, don’t blame me, blame the Grand Comics Database.) The Blue Beetle was originally one of the dime-a-dozen suit-and-mask heroes, along with the Green Hornet, the Shadow (although the Shadow didn't wear a mask), the Spirit, and others. Then he changed his costume after a single issue, possibly because of the obvious similarity to the Green Hornet.

I'm sure that there's an explanation for what he's saying in the first panel.  Probably.
Near as I can tell, Blue Beetle was much like Captain Marvel, in a way. 

Pictured: A well-spoken, reasonable discussion regarding the similarities between Captain Marvel and Superman.
Neither CM nor BB is what you’d call an “original concept,” as both creations borrow heavily from other characters, but both Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle were, for a short while, each as popular, if not actually more popular, than their original counterpart. To put that into perspective, imagine if “Snakes on a Plane” had been outdone by “Snakes on a Train.” Seriously, he was more popular than you might think. There was a “Blue Beetle Day” at the 1939 World’s Fair, he had a radio show for a while, there was a newspaper strip drawn by Jack-Friggin'-Kirby, it was a whole craze.

Wow, my favorite radio station!  ...which one was that again?
Secret Origin
Blue Beetle actually has two secret origins, the first of which was replaced by the second and isn’t mentioned anymore, but I’m still going to talk about it.

Originally, police officer Dan Garret would take the mysterious vitamin 2-X, and gain superhuman strength and agility. Putting on a suit, fedora, and mask, he busted up gangs as the Blue Beetle! So, yeah, that’s kind of generic, and it’s missing a lot of things like how did he get his hands on this mysterious Vitamin 2-x? Oh, wait, a friend of his named Dr. Franz invented it. Mystery Solved. Was it commercially available? And what does 2-x mean? Is it, like, times two? Gives you strength and agility times two? Why call yourself the “Blue Beetle” if you have no beetle motif apart from a belt buckle? Did he get bitten by a radioactive beetle? Did a beetle mug his parents in an alleyway? Does he turn into a beetle whenever he says “SHAZA- Melolonthinae?” (Either ask a biologist to explain, or just assume that joke was funny.) It’s no wonder they replaced that origin with the next one, which actually involves a beetle.
After the rights for Blue Beetle were obtained by Charlton Comics (remember them?), the character was relaunched in 1964. Dan Garrett added a ‘t’ to his last name, and stopped being a cop. Now, he was an archaeologist/adventurer. Think “Indiana Jones” garbed in IKB. Kind of ironic that when they made him into Indiana Jones, he lost the Indiana Jones hat.

On a dig in ancient Egypt, Dan uncovered a magic blue scarab which gave him powers beyond those of mortal men whenever he said “Kaji Dha!” A magic gibberish word that unlocks power? Seems there's another similarity to Captain Marvel.... I’ll tell you what, though; Dan really got the jackpot on random magical items there. I’d be lucky if my D&D character got a so much as pair of magic underwear that made his urine green. All I’ve got is my big-boy pants. (Don't laugh, they give me +2 against fear effects.) Speaking of clothes, after creating an outfit made from blue micro-chainmail, Dan fought crime and supernatural weirdness as the Blue Beetle!

"Supernatural Weirdness" = Giant mummies that are apparently not dead.
Originally, Blue Beetle had no powers. He was a gritty urban cop who kicked butt and took names. Then, he started taking Vitamin 2-x, which increased his natural abilities, much like Captain America's super-soldier serum. Then things got weird, with a capital "Wha-hunh?" For a while, he could actually fly. Then he gained X-Ray vision. Basically, he started turning into Superman, and probably would have gotten even more powerful if it weren’t for the fact that in later decades, superheroes weren’t as popular as they were after the 40’s. He was essentially de-powered, and started narrating "True-Crime" stories, then he just faded away before being retooled, then faded away again. The only other thing I think is worth mentioning about his V2X days is his portable phone. Star Trek communicators? Pshaw, this is where the cell phone was predicted. After Dan found the scarab, he gained super-strength, super-vision, flight, and energy blasts by shouting “Kaji-Dha.”

Blue Beetle never really had much in the way of an actual nemesis, he mostly fought gangs and whatever random weirdness was going on that month. Gang of gangsters? Check. Guy who drops cars from the sky to assassinate people? Check. Lora Crofte? No, not the one you're thinking of. This one was a counterfeiter. There’s a Tomb Raider joke in there somewhere, but I never got past swan diving off the balcony at Croft Manor, so I can't make an adequate joke. 

Oh, and shooting the butler! Then locking his body in the walk-in freezer. What, was there more to this game?
Character History
As I mentioned back in my Captain Atom episode, comics back then weren’t big on the whole “continuity” thing. We wouldn’t have that until the Justice Society. But we can speculate. Dan Garrett had no powers originally, as a cop, right? But he later took a Vitamin to gain powers. Then his powers kept increasing. Maybe he got addicted to Vitamin 2-x and he had to take bigger and bigger doses over time, which resulted in more powers? Then he tried to quit, which is why he stopped taking the vitamin! And he was reduced to narrating other people’s stories because he was kicked off the force? Which resulted in him traveling abroad to find himself, finding the scarab, and coming back! 

….Or not. 

If Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison end up writing that story, I better get credit. Remember, you heard it here first!

Alternate Versions
Sadly, Dan Garrett has never been a featured character, but he has made cameos in Batman TBATB and Young Justice as the inspiration for his successors.

Told you he could fly.
Also, due to some kind of copyright stuff that I really don’t understand or care about, AC Comics, and Dynamite Entertainment have both used the character in their respective Golden-Age revival series. Kind of cool.

Final Thoughts
The Dan Garrett Blue Beetle is everything that I love about Golden Age mystery men. He’s smart and self-sufficient, and says "hello" with a haymaker. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at his first successor, who took a more “technological” approach to heroics. 

And on that bombshell...
... I'll see you in Part 2!


  1. You know, I kind of want to make a Flash animation that ties those stories together, where he relies on Vitamin 2-X before taking the Scarab.

    I'm also in half of a mind to, in the animation, retcon Vitamin 2-X into some prototype version of Venom.

    1. Well, what's stopping you? That sounds awesome! I'd watch it.
      Heck, I'd love to write a story like that.